In school, we're taught that similes are analogies using "like" or "as". This is clearly just a mnemonic for a comparison between two distinct objects. Metaphors on the other hand combine the two objects being compared, stating them as one. What I'm curious about is whether the construction "object one has the descriptive noun of object two" counts as a simile. Example:

Simile: He ran as fast as a tiger.

Metaphor: When running at full speed, he was a tiger.

Questionable: He ran with the speed of a tiger.

Hypocatastasis: The tiger ran by me. (referring to a man)

Edit: Corrected mislabeled hypocatastasis and added true example of a metaphor.

  • BTW, Fraser Orr is correct in saying that your second sentence is actually a hypocatastasis, not a metaphor. You should perhaps say "In foot-racing, he was a cheetah" or something similar.
    – Daniel
    Aug 30, 2011 at 19:00
  • 1
    I'm amused that a running tiger is the example for hypo-cat-a-stasis. Oct 15, 2013 at 1:24

2 Answers 2

Simile: He ran as fast as a tiger.

This is indeed a simile.

Metaphor: The tiger ran by me. (referring to a man)

This is not a metaphor, it is a different figure of speech called hypocatastasis.

Questionable: He ran with the speed of a tiger.

This is not a figure of speech, it is a literal statement.

There are really three common figures of speech of comparison (although the last is not well known by name it is really common in practice.) They are, in ascending order of strength:

  • "simile" characterized by like or as
  • "metaphor" characterized by the verb "to be"
  • "hypocatasasis" characterized by the replacement of the word by that which it is compared to.

I remember the Mom telling her kid to clean up his room:

  • "Your room is like a pigsty, clean it up!"
  • "Your room is a pigsty, clean it up!"
  • "Clean up your pigsty!!"

(With apologies to our porcine friends.)

  • 1
    But the "literal statement" is therefore a falsehood, since tigers can run up to 40 mph. I disagree. I appreciate your pointing out that the "metaphor" is actually a hypocatastasis, though.
    – Daniel
    Aug 30, 2011 at 18:56
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    You are confusing "literal" with "true." However, I guess my intent was literal in terms of comparison. One could certainly make a case that it was hyperbole.
    – Fraser Orr
    Aug 30, 2011 at 19:43
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    "He ran with the speed of a tiger" probably qualifies as simple hyperbole.
    – user13141
    Sep 28, 2011 at 6:08

It is a simile. Wikipedia's article on similes says:

A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two different things, usually by employing the words "like", "as", or "than"... Similes are sometimes made without using the words "like" or "as". This often occurs when making comparisons of differing values.

The simile compares two separate things, the man's speed and the tiger's speed.

Keep in mind that all similes are metaphors; they are a subset. (Cf. Similes and Metaphors - are similes a subset of metaphors?)

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